‘Let’s go to Jack’s!’
The local landmark diner serves up hot food and good memories for decades
Jack’s Family Restaurant540 Main St.
Chico, CA 95928
Who in Chico hasn’t eaten at Jack’s Family Restaurant at least once?
Jack’s is an iconic Chico mainstay, and its patrons range from the college-age bar crowd to families and seniors.
This old-school diner—housed in a former 1960s-era Denny’s restaurant—takes you back in time with its vintage decor, no-nonsense cooking, low prices and efficient, friendly service. And there is usually plenty of parking.
When you walk in the door, a friendly host or hostess greets you immediately and seats you inside either at a table or in a cozy booth, or—weather permitting—at one of the tables on Jack’s outdoor patio. Single patrons may sit at the counter if they wish—a good place from which to watch the action in the kitchen.
Jack’s counter has always attracted its share of local characters such as the gregarious, aging ex-marine named Bob known for wearing a military helmet covered in flowers and feathers who frequented the diner for years—part of the evolving, colorful cast of “regulars” who seem to know all the employees by name.
The front of the menu you are handed aptly reads: “Part of Chico’s Culture for Over 35 Years.”
Typical of diners built in the ’6os is the requisite interior rock wall. Tabletops are made of faux-cherrywood laminate and seats are covered in burgundy naugahyde. Large glass windows allow customers to watch the activity along Main Street as they sip their coffee or munch on a burger. There is also a “claw” vending machine—one of those ubiquitous “teddy pickers” with a joystick and a crane arm—to entertain the kids while they wait for their food.
Jack’s is locally owned and operated, which means a lot to Chicoans.
Owner Martín García bought the restaurant in 2004 from John Castaldo, who had owned Jack’s since 1984. According to García, Castaldo bought Jack’s from a man who went by the nickname “Jack,” thus giving the restaurant its name.
The first job García ever had was as a Jack’s dishwasher at the age of 16.
“They fired me a month later, and then called me back to work about a month after that,” offered García with a chuckle, the irony not escaping him.
When García and his wife go on vacation and talk to people who have lived in Chico, many of them recall a story about eating at Jack’s.García even has stories about people who met their spouses at Jack’s during college and stop by the restaurant when they come back to town for a visit.
Jack’s is open 24/7. García says business is always steady, although Friday and Saturday nights after the bars close are often the busiest.
He added that he expects his staff to always be polite and responsible, and says they tend to be a mix of students and long-time employees.
“I have a server who has worked here for about 15 years,” García noted.
First-timers may be overwhelmed by the huge selection of breakfast, lunch and dinner specials in addition to the vast array of regular menu items.
García says breakfast items are customer favorites.
“Our chicken-fried steak is one of the bestsellers, but the Jack’s Sampler, Sleepy Dan and Lumberjack Specials are all really popular, too.”
Locals know how huge these breakfasts can be. Unless you are really hungry or a very large man, you may want to share. The Lumberjack Special ($9.75), for instance, consists of three eggs, three strips of bacon, three sausages, three pancakes, hash browns or home fries, and toast. The Sleepy Dan ($8.95) is the same as the Lumberjack Special, minus one egg.
Also popular for breakfast are “skillets”—eggs, potatoes and other ingredients; the four-egg omelets; and, of course, biscuits and gravy ($3.75).
The restaurant also offers sandwiches, salads and burgers, appetizers such as beer-battered zucchini or mushrooms ($6.45), and Mexican food. And patrons can order most menu items any time, day or night..
Jack’s is popular at dinnertime with the local crowd for its inexpensive home-style dinners like meat loaf, “broasted” chicken, and yes, more chicken fried steak. For those with fancier taste, there is steak and shrimp for under $10.
And don’t forget dessert. Like many diners, Jack’s offers fruit and cream pies and other tasty treats, such as custard and bread pudding. They also make giant sundaes and milkshakes.
“No matter what time of day I go there, I order something from the breakfast menu … or an Oreo milkshake,” says CSU, Chico student Stephannie Depa. “My friends and I like to go there because we can get a lot of food for cheap and have fun joking around with the waitresses and hearing stories about their more interesting clients. Jack’s is just one of those Chico landmarks that everyone has to go to at least once.”